Imagine you’re a local business owner. You live in a small town, and your family runs Tacos Fantasticos, one of the two Mexican restaurants in your neighborhood. You work long, hard days serving up delicious food and treating your customers with courtesy and care. Your livelihood depends on it.
One afternoon, one of your regular diners who is a Search Marketer explains to you that people are talking about your business on the Internet. They’re leaving something she calls ‘user reviews’ for you in places like Google Maps, Yahoo! Local and Yelp. That night after closing up shop, you sit down and look curiously at your local profiles for the first time. The Search Marketer was right – your customers are talking about you.
You read some very nice things patrons have written about your business, and you feel a sort of warm pride. Other reviews are more critical, complaining of slow service, a poorly prepared dish. You nod your head, resolving to address these issues with your family and staff in the morning.
And suddenly, all the blood is draining from your face. A coldness settles in your stomach as you read a review so unfair, so untrue, so damaging!
Tacos Fantasticos is the worst Mexican restaurant in town. Their food is garbage. I hate this place and would never recommend it to a friend. Save yourself a case of food poisoning and eat at Mi Pueblo instead. They’re the best!
The chill in your stomach is replaced by a fever skyrocketing to the top of your head as you realize that this terrible, unjust review of your restaurant must have been left by Mi Pueblo – your competitor. You feel insulted, embarrassed to know others are reading this review. You feel angry. Within seconds, words of retort spring to your mind. Your fingers settle on the keyboard. If Mi Pueblo is going to say your food is toxic garbage, just wait until they read the review you will write of them!
STOP! Cool off. Think it through.
The hypothetical situation I’ve described above does happen in real life. Just yesterday, a reader asked me about this business of competitors leaving phony bad reviews. I gave him a brief answer – I want to give a better one today.
When it comes to money, people do rash things. When the proprietors of both Tacos Fantasicos and Mi Pueblo are dependent upon the success of their respective restaurants to keep food on their families’ tables, it isn’t strange that they are looking for security. Yet, striving for success and grasping for today’s dollar are two very different things.
The new world of user reviews has made it possible for businesses to do their competition a dirty turn – to hide behind the anonymity of a screen name while making damaging comments. To me, the worst thing about this isn’t that it’s simply unethical; the worst thing is the loss of opportunity. I get it that any local business has to work like crazy to make a living, but going at this with a desperation that casts aside all goals but ‘winning’ is short-sighted in the extreme.
Because of my profession, I tend to get an advanced showing of how things are going to be playing out on the Internet in six months, a year, five years. Search Marketers often use technologies, try out trends and take Internet ideas a for a spin long before they ‘filter down’ to the general public. That’s our job. I believe this gives us a special insight into the way things could go when it comes to the reality of competition.
Though I have witnessed a few displays of unseemly competitiveness in my industry, for the most part, the atmosphere is one of rather stunning generosity and sharing. Rather than badmouthing competitors, SEO firms tend to befriend other SEO firms. They share tips, root for one another and, yes, even send clients to one another. These activities have created a community with a very strong sense that there is plenty of work and plenty of good will to go around.
We could have gone another way. We could have been so grasping for money that we were willing to eschew all ethical behavior and call our competitors bad guys, just to get that contract signed today. And in the process, we would have lost all opportunity to befriend and learn from the very people who know what our work life is like.
Only another SEO knows the agony of managing a client who can’t be pleased. Only another SEO knows that two-in-the-morning feeling of watching a client’s site jump from #27 to #2 in Google after weeks of grinding over on-page efforts. Only another SEO may have the experience that can get us out of a jam when our client’s WordPress blog suddenly deletes all of their posts. Our competitors are, in point of fact, our strongest potential allies and greatest resource for a full, rich work life. They give us empathy, inspiration and a chance to share what we know. They make us better at what we do best.
Your Competitors Are Your Industry
The truth is, the owners of Mi Pueblo and Tacos Fantastico represent the Mexican Restaurant Industry in their small town. Both of them are uniquely abled to understand the rising cost of ingredients, the challenge of finding skilled cooks, the difficulty of pleasing picky patrons. Rather than stabbing one another in the back via user reviews or word-of-mouth, they could band together and help one another to become better restaurateurs with a better chance of success due to their shared knowledge.
I don’t offer exactly what my colleagues do. My ‘competitors’ send clients to me for copywriting and I send PPC work their way. I tend to work with small businesses. Other firms handle only the big guys. Even though so many of the firms in my industry offer similar services, each one offers a somewhat different experience and has different specialty skills. By making the client’s satisfaction the goal, even when this means admitting that someone else is a better match for his needs, you stand to gain the following benefits:
When compared to the acquisition of a few thousand dollars gotten by speaking ill of your peers, my list looks pretty good and has the potential to create sustainable business.
Chances are, the 2 Mexican restaurants aren’t exactly alike, unless they are a chain. Maybe one has patio dining, while the other has a live band on Friday nights. One makes the best tamales on earth while the other specializes in award-winning tacos. Just imagine, if you will, the kind of good will that would be created if Tacos Fantasticos’ owner began praising Mi Pueblo and sending his customers there for a mouthwatering enchilada. Just imagine if Mi Pueblo urged his patrons to visit his friend’s taco shop down the road to sample a salsa they’ll never forget. By placing premium importance on the customer’s pleasure, both restaurants are actually serving themselves in the long run.
And, who knows – maybe these 2 business owners can benefit one another in other ways, apart from making their town seem like the friendliest place to get Mexican food in their county. Maybe they can join together to get better prices on wholesale refried beans. Maybe they can host cultural events together that get press for both of their restaurants. Maybe they can put their town on the map as the place to travel to for authentic Mexican dining north of the border. They could even work together to get a handle on this whole new business of reputation management, social media and local search.
But What If Your Competitor Has Already Blown It?
If your competitor, with a colossal lack of foresight, has made a mistake in deciding he’d try to take your business by leaving you a negative review, chances are you aren’t feeling very friendly towards him. You could choose to retaliate – leave him an even worse review. Chances are, you might even get away with it. Or, the review site might realize what you’ve done and take punitive action against your account and your competitor might go to the media to expose your underhanded dealings. Your customers might get wind of what you’ve done, lose respect for you and stop doing business with you. Hmm…it’s sounding like less and less of a good idea, isn’t it?
Let’s take a cool look at your two best options.
1) You shrug your shoulders over your competitor’s rudeness and put major efforts into winning many new positive reviews from your customers that will effectively push the older negative review down the listings and make that one bad review look like the work of an impossible-to-please crank. Believe me, I spend hours every week looking at reviews and a ratio of a couple of bad reviews to numerous positive ones tends to convince me that a business is probably just fine.
2) You take the harder route and confront your competitor with the goal in mind of getting him to change that review. You may need to use some finesse here and offer him an easy way out of his embarrassment. You might suggest that one of his foolish employees must have left this awful review, hoping to help the business but without the owner’s permission. Give him a chance to make amends because, remember, your goal here is to turn things around. Several of the review sites do allow a user to alter their review. If you really want to get that bad review off your public record, think hard about what you can do. Imagine a conversation like this:
“Hey, amigo. I’m bringing my in-laws down there tomorrow night for some of those great taco salads you make. My mother-in-law just loves those, and I think you guys make those better than we do. Can you give us a really good table? And, hey, by the way, have you heard about all this new user review stuff? One of the reasons I want to eat there is I’d like to be able to leave you guys a great review. Good for business, you know?”
Maybe, I’m asking for too much. Maybe it would be a superhuman feat to take control of your anger and turn a nasty situation into a positive one in the manner I’m suggesting. But if you could do it, you’d be doing what the so-called ‘early adopters’ have done, realizing that there is plenty of business to go around and that a professional atmosphere of good will offers tremendous potential benefits for everyone involved.
Finding and joining your industry’s conversation is the best way I know of to improve your own business. Online, whole social groups evolve around industries and hobbies. Reputations are made and broken on the social media wheel. The ethics of this absolutely apply offline as well, and when it comes to the local business, your dealings with your professional peers not only say a lot about you but also set the tone of commerce in the place you call home. Sharp, grasping business practices may win you today’s dollar, but what kind of future are they earning you? By taking a far-seeing approach to your attitude about your industry, you are setting yourself up for sustainable success and a very pleasant work life.
Flickr Photo Credit Goes To Roland